Discover the Women of the French Resistance in the Alpilles
There was a very interesting talk in St.-Rémy-de-Provence the other night, about women in the French Resistance. It focused particular attention on St.-Rémy, where I live part of the year.
The talk was organized by the local historical society and featured two historians who specialize in the subject. The event was held at the town’s movie theater and was surprisingly full.
Interest may be strong here because the great Resistance leader Jean Moulin had a home in nearby St.-Andiol. He was a member of Charles de Gaulle’s government-in-exile in London. In 1942 he parachuted into the nearby Alpilles mountains, in the dead of night, to organize competing factions into what we now call the Resistance.
One of the questions addressed by the historians at the talk was, “how many women were in the Resistance?” For a long time it was thought that there were relatively few, because the official figures compiled right after the war only counted armed fighters. These were predominately men, so the idea took hold that the Resistance was made up primarily of men.
In the 1980’s, however, a wave of feminist historians forced a closer look at the question. Instead of asking, “Who carried a gun?” they asked the more appropriate question, “Who risked their life?” This included couriers, nurses, those who fed and sheltered fighters, etc. While no definitive figures exist, it’s now clear that a large part of the Resistance was made up of women.
A few of these women are well-known, like the head of the Alliance network Marie-Madeleine Fourcade, or the Resistance member Lucie Aubrac, but most names are lost to history.
A recently-discovered document sheds some light on the history of the Resistance in St-Rémy. It lists both members and “sympathizers” and was held in secret by the local leader. Can you imagine how dangerous this document was when the country was under Nazi control?
It shows that out of 6,000 inhabitants of St.-Rémy during the war, there were 52 members of the Resistance. And of these, 26 – exactly half – were women.
The highlight of the evening was when the guest of honor was introduced. This woman, now 92, was a teenager during the war and worked with her father in the Resistance. She smuggled guns and messages at night, after the curfew, at great risk to herself.
When the war ended, there was a lot of vigilante justice in France. Collaborators were summarily executed, along with innocent people accused of collaboration. Again at great risk to herself, this lady was instrumental in stopping the vigilantes in St.-Rémy and making sure that every accused person was instead prosecuted under French law.
You don’t see a real hero every day. It was inspiring to be in the presence of one.